Wednesday, January 29, 2014

#Snowpocalypse (Because Whatelse is There to Write About?)

I am part of a storytelling group in Chicago. We perform once a month and share prepared personal essays on a stage at a bar (not as sketch as it sounds; it's very bohemian!). I wrote this piece (it's still rough) for next month's performance so I thought I would share it here:


When I was little and growing up on a tropical island off the coast of Georgia, I used to dream about snow. Every Christmas, as the thermometers inched painfully slowly towards the 30 degree mark, I would think, “Yes. This is it. Snow! It’s going to snow!” and every year I was inevitably disappointed and had to make due with building creatures out of cold sand instead of wonderful, fluffy snow. Luckily, I made up for my lost snow days by moving to the Snow Belt of Michigan for college and then moving to Chicago. I have since made many a snowman, the traditional I’m-not-a-mature-adult snow penis, snow angels, and enjoyed lots of sledding, slipping, and sliding.
This winter has been one of the coldest winters in recent history. Many areas of the Midwest and New England hit record low subzero temperatures in January. Schools closed, jobs told employees not to come to work, and frostbite advisories were plastered everywhere. The South also experienced a bit harsher winter than they were used to. Instead of the typical one-week per year of 30 degree temperatures, suddenly southerners were experiencing a week and a half of freezing temperatures. Sheets of ice formed on cars, there was a need to use the words “salt” and “truck” in the same sentence, and some schools also shutdown…for 40 degree weather.
Okay, okay, I will cut the South some slack. When “cold” to you is 60 degrees then I can see not wanting to go to school in 40 degree weather. I mean, I went to a high school in Brunswick, Georgia that was laid out like a college campus so we had to walk outside to get from one class to the next and we still had to go to school when the temperature dropped to a surprising 20 degrees sometimes, but maybe the students nowadays have thinner skin. Or maybe parents now care if their children drop dead of hypothermia. Who knows! The point is, even though in my day we still went to school when it was below freezing, I can understand that 40 degrees feels like 5 degrees to someone who doesn’t have boots and instead has to wear toe-socks and flipflops in the winter (a style that I totally embraced back in high school).
Yesterday, my Facebook feed began to blow-up with talks of snow from my Georgia friends. Friends from South Carolina, Alabama, and Florida commented that they were stocking up on Taco Bell, pop, and chocolate to see their way through the coming snowstorm. Others wished everyone a safe drive to and from work in such conditions. One status in particular caught my eye: “Attention all [Georgia State University] students! Campus will close as of 1 p.m. due to severe weather conditions. Go stock up on bread, cheese, and head home NOW!” I asked my friend what the “severe weather” conditions were. His response: “There’s a chance of snow flurries.”
Snow flurries…snow FLURRIES?!
I need to be more sympathetic. I need to remember what it was like to live in the South having never experienced a Michigan blizzard, driving through blinding snow in Indiana, or walking over solid sheets of ice after freezing rain both melted and froze the mounds of snow around my Chicago apartment. I’m trying to remember that many of my southern friends have never even driven on ice before. They think layering is putting on a long-sleeved and a short-sleeved shirt at the same time. I doubt there’s even a snowplow within a 100 mile radius of my home town!
I try to remember when I was new to the snow. When I was that crazy girl running around Kalamazoo College’s campus and asking my roommate to take pictures of me with my mouth wide-open, head tilted straight back, and tongue collecting as many snowflakes as I could. I remember refusing to walk with my Midwestern friends in the winter because they walked like normal people while I shuffled like a crippled penguin. I remember spinning out my first time on an unplowed road and yelling at my car to just please just stop! I remember the time I poured Morton salt on the steps of my house senior year because I thought that’s what everyone meant by “salting.” I, too, was a snow-virgin once!
And then I see Facebook posts about “My windshield wipers are frozen. I can’t go to work?!,” “Shame on the governor for not calling a state of emergency!” and hastags of “snowpocalypse” and “snowday2014neverforget.” The Starbucks on my island closed at 3 p.m. because of the cold. People are posting prayers and quotes from the Bible, saying that they all need to stick together to get through this harrowing time.
Also, can we please all remember the time in 2011 when Atlanta really did have a snow storm? There was about two feet of snow covering the whole city. For Chicago that’s like, “Two feet sucks, but whatever. We can still go about our day,” but two feet in Atlanta is actually something to talk about. The city only has four snowplows and those all had to go to the airport. So yes, Atlanta is no stranger to snow that halts the entire city, but is this now going to happen every time is snows? My mother works for a college on the coast of Georgia – they closed because the "roads may be icy." My boyfriend lives outside of Savannah – his work also told him not to come into work. Even the National Parks closed!
Listen-up, fellow Georgians and southerners, I am here to tell you that snow is not the enemy. Snow is not there to kill you or do you any real harm. Snow is basically rain that’s decided to solidify and stick around for a while. Yes, it’s cold as fuck (I know a “fuck” can’t be cold, but stick your bare foot into a pile of snow sometime and you’ll learn just how accurate of a description “cold as fuck” is) and it’s slippery and can cause some serious damage when your car spins out or you fall asleep in it or there’s an avalanche, but that’s a lot of snow. A lot of snow. Not 2 bloody inches.
And let’s take the moment to talk about the actual weather-related danger that poses a threat to the South, specifically the coastal regions: hurricanes. As I said before, snow is not there to kill you, but hurricanes kind of are. Hurricanes are board-up-the-windows-and-get-the-hell-out-of-dodge worthy. They come with winds so strong that they can send a regular flimsy McDonald’s straw straight through your hand. They come with flooding, which really sucks for the coastal regions, where people have destroyed the marshlands to build McMansions (i.e. you covered up the natural sponge that could have saved you from a flood, but now you risk losing that boring, bland house you built -- good job!).
Hurricanes come in categories, everyone knows that: 1-5, least damaging to incredibly dangerous. I can remember evacuating for a hurricane once: Hurricane Floyd. He was a 4. I would say about 40% of my island left for Floyd. Some people boarded up their windows, covered them with packing-tape Xs, and moved valuables off the ground. Those of us who left went inland. As per usual, the hurricane hit the Gulf Stream and, instead of slamming into the Georgia islands like it was supposed to, it careened into South Carolina.
My point is, there was no real urgency to the hurricane. Some of us (mostly old people and people with kids) took a little road trip inland with minimal preparations to our homes and then we came back. Since Floyd, my family has never evacuated again. The last hurricane to come that close was Charley. I was working for the National Park Service at the time, a small settlement that is now archeological ruins on St. Simons Island. Charley was also a 4. Did we evacuate? Nope. Did my National Park flood? Oh yeah. Quite extensively. Did we still have to come to work? Yep.
And yet, this winter, in fact as I am typing this piece, the park is closed...for 30 degree weather. My mother also told me that they called in the National Guard in Atlanta. That's right. Chicago gets -15 degree weather that "feels like" -40 and we get what? A snow day? Or at least those of us with very nice bosses did. Atlanta gets less than 1/4 of a foot of snow and they get the bloody cavalry.  I know a guy who goes to Georgia Tech who spent 12 hours trapped in his car before abandoning it on I-75 and just walking home. Some students even slept overnight on their school bus because the traffic was in such a gridlock. Some kids even spent the night in their elementary school because of the snow!
State of Georgia and just the South in general, get your shit together. You're embarrassing yourself.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Greetings from Chiberia! This is the new name/hashtag for the weather that has currently consumed Chicago. There's a lot of snow, but not quite enough to officially earn the "Snowpocalypse 2.0" title (which, if you could see how much snow is out there right now, then that is really saying something about Snowpocalypse 1.0!). Chiberia is a pretty apt description, however.

It is cold. Excuse my language, but it is really fucking cold out there. I have been checking my weather app nearly every hour for the past two days and it hasn't displayed a double-digit positive number since Sunday around 1:00 p.m. Currently it is one degrees Fahrenheit (it was zero degrees an hour ago so we're getting warmer - yay!) and "feels like" -15. Yesterday, my roommate and I joined all the other Chicagoans in performing the Boiling Water Experiment. I filled up a teakettle with water, waited until it started to boil, and then Molly and I went outside and poured the boiling water into the snow. You can really pour the water anywhere because the purpose of the experiment is watching the water immediately turn to snow/steam. It's pretty cool! A lot of people are burning themselves because they are taking pots of boiling water and tossing it in the air, which inevitably kicks some of the water back onto your skin. Molly and I were much smarter than that (although I did accidentally sink my foot ankle-deep in snow so that wasn't too fun).

Besides that, there is really not too much to say about Chiberia. The heat is my apartment is practically non-existent so as I type this post my windows are covered with towels to stop the cold air from seeping through (there's also frost on the inside of the windows...thank you to my landlord, Steve Bojic -- that's his real name!). I am wearing two hoodies and am snuggled under three blankets. It's also a Tuesday and it is the second day my office has been closed due to the weather. This was a wise decision because many of my coworkers live in the suburbs and last night the Metra trains suddenly cancelled all of their departures during the evening commuting hours. The school district has also been closed for a second day in a row and there are stories all over the news and Facebook of people being stranded in the airports and train depots because nothing is coming in or out of Chicago.

On Sunday I worked at Heartbeat Theatre. We are in the middle of a 3-week long story festival that we host every year and it is safe to say that this is a crazy time. From 3:00-10:00 p.m. Thursday - Sunday we have a different Chicago storytelling group/solo artist performing at either our theatre or at the Kentwood (from my Are You Kidnapping My Husband story). Snow had been pouring down on Chicago since Saturday afternoon. I was manning the box office and most of the calls I was receiving were, "Are you still having shows today?" The roads were awful and the Front of House (FOH) Manager later told me that we should have cancelled, but, as usual, we did not and the shows went on!

Around 1:30 p.m. the girl who was the shuttle driver for the day came to the theatre and reported that the parking lot had not been plowed. She had also gotten stuck numerous times on her journey to and from the theatre. "I'm sorry," she said to the FOH, " I can't drive in this. I just can't. I don't feel safe." I had just caused a tremendous paper jam in the ticket-printer so I immediately raised my hand, "I'll do it! You do box office and I'll shuttle!"

Luckily and sadly, I do not have any fun stories from driving the shuttle around in nearly two feet of snow. The lot was eventually plowed, but the snow never stopped falling. The plows could hardly keep up with the rate at which the snow was piling up. The van spun out and got stuck numerous times, but each time we persevered. I have since named the van Shackleton because of his impressive barreling-through-snow capabilities. I sat in the van for four hours and only shuttled two people. The last person and I bonded for about 15 minutes after I picked her up from the last show of the night and we sat behind two cars that were stuck: one was trapped in a parking space they were trying to pullout of and the other was stuck waiting for that parking place. Finally, the car directly in front of Shackleton moved up enough so that I could pull into an unplowed alley. Shackleton and I stopped and started numerous times as we created a path for the three other cars that decided to follow our lead down the alley and eventually we did make it to the next road. Shockingly, the middle seat of the van did not flip up once!

So that's all from Chiberia folks. Nothing too exciting, but that's mostly because none of us want to venture outside. My neighbours are trying to venture out, however. I keep hearing their cars squealing against the snow and ice in our alleyway. Last night, a car did this for forty minutes before they were finally able to make it out of the alleyway. Did I mention that not a single snowplow has graced our alleyway all winter? My landlord says, "The city will do it," but I don't see why they would when the alleyway is private property and Mayor Emmanuel has already cut the budget for snowplows this year. I made the mistake of asking my landlord if a plow would ever come through our alley or if we would just have to wait until the snow melts naturally (currently, I cannot get my car out of my parking space and Molly cannot get hers in). My landlord responded by calling me in hysterics about how I could possibly expect him to put a plow on the front of his car. Needless to say, that was not at all what I meant and clearly Chiberia is getting the best of everyone's sanity.

Stay warm!